Tofu: More Than A Meat Substitute

Tofu is incredibly versatile and delicious to prepare. Tofu is also very healthy, as numerous studies show. The soy quark can therefore come onto your plate more often – whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or completely normal.

Tofu, a protein, and iron-rich staple

Tofu is made from soy. It is also called bean cheese, bean curd, or soy curd. That’s because it’s made from coagulated soy milk – just like you make quark or cheese from animal milk.

In the western world, tofu is primarily marketed as a protein and iron-rich meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans – but tofu is so much more than that. It originally comes from China, where it is considered a staple food. There it is by no means only food for vegetarians. Instead, Chinese households like to eat it in combination with meat, e.g. B. in the form of map doufu, a very spicy dish from Sichuan province in southwest China.

For Mapo Doufu, tofu is combined with minced meat and prepared in a wok in a sauce made from spicy soybean paste, fermented black beans, garlic, ginger, and chili.

Tofu can be prepared in sweet and savory

In Asia, you can buy tofu in many consistencies, from very firm to medium firm to soft and very soft. In Europe, on the other hand, there is usually only firm tofu – at most the silken tofu – a soft, creamy variant.

Since tofu also has almost no taste of its own, you can use it for all kinds of dishes – whether savory or sweet:

  • Firm tofu is sliced ​​and fried or diced in soups, stir-fries, or stews, or mashed and used as a filling for dumplings, casseroles, or pancakes.
  • Soft tofu is pureed and processed into sweet dessert creams, cake creams, ice cream, or even savory dressings or dips.

Tofu is an important part of Asian culture

The soybean was cultivated in China more than 5,000 years ago and is considered one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Tofu, on the other hand, was probably first mentioned in China in 965 AD. From there he reached other countries in Asia. Tofu has a long tradition in Japan and Korea, among others, and is an inseparable part of the national culture.

While tofu had established itself as a staple food in China in all social classes, in Japan it used to be eaten only on public holidays because it was expensive. It is difficult to say how much tofu is eaten in Asia today, as there are large differences from country to country and from region to region.

In Shanghai e.g. For example, according to one study, women eat an average of 8.8 g of soy protein per day – men eat an average of 12.5 g. This corresponds to about 100 g of tofu (depending on the type of tofu) or 50 g of tofu and 200 ml of soy milk.

Since tofu is one of the most commonly consumed soy products in China, a large part of the daily amount of soy protein is eaten there in the form of tofu. In Japan, the values ​​are similar to those in Shanghai. However, more natto and miso are eaten there than tofu.

This is how tofu is made

Tofu is always made from soy milk, which – as is also known from cheese production – is curdled. Tofu can therefore actually be compared to quark or cheese.

You simply add a coagulant to soy milk, and the protein in the soy milk coagulates (flocculates). The flakes are separated from the liquid – the whey – and pressed into block form, and the tofu is ready.

Soy milk, in turn, is made from soybeans that are soaked in water and then pureed and boiled. The consistency of the soy milk and the type of coagulant determine the later consistency of the tofu. A rich, i.e. viscous, soy milk is suitable for silken tofu, while light soy milk tends to produce firmer tofu.

The “right” coagulant makes all the difference

If you want to make cheese from cow’s milk, you add certain enzymes to the milk as a coagulant. There are four different coagulants available when making tofu:

  • nigari
  • magnesium chloride
  • calcium sulfate
  • citric acid

Nigari is a seawater-based coagulant based on magnesium chloride, which also contains many other mineral salts. It was mainly used in the regions by the sea. Calcium sulfate – better known as gypsum – was used inland. Refined magnesium chloride, calcium sulfate, and citric acid are often used in the tofu industry today.

Calcium sulfate tofu is more popular in China, while the Japanese swear by nigari. Citric acid or lemon juice is more commonly used in rural areas of Japan to make tofu for desserts.

A combination of calcium sulfate and nigari or magnesium chloride is also possible. However, a combination of coagulants is more likely to be used with industrially produced tofu in order to achieve the optimal consistency and the desired taste.

Nigari makes the tofu sweet (compared to calcium sulfate). Lemon juice, on the other hand, results in tart tofu.

The different types of tofu

Since there are so many different types of tofu, the ideal tofu is available for every dish and recipe:

  • Plain tofu

Natural tofu is pure tofu that has not been processed. It is most common in Germany. Natural tofu is pressed into small blocks, with us mostly firm, and has lower moisture content and the highest protein content compared to softer tofu varieties.

Natural tofu is suitable for almost all tofu dishes, as it is relatively tasteless and can therefore be seasoned and marinated in a variety of ways. In Asia, you can buy it in all possible consistencies, from very firm to medium firm to soft.

  • Silken tofu

Silken tofu is soft, easily breakable, and has a higher moisture content than firm tofu. It is particularly suitable for desserts or muesli, as it is wonderfully creamy when pureed. There are also softer and somewhat firmer versions of silken tofu, but these are more common in Asia than here.

  • Smoked tofu

The naturally smoked tofu has a strong aroma and therefore no longer needs to be seasoned. It is usually smoked over beech wood. It is firm and can be diced straight from the pack, for example in a salad, or eaten sliced ​​on bread. Before eating it can be fried; but it can also be eaten straight from the pack.

Due to its smoky aroma, smoked tofu does not go well with every dish. But it tastes wonderful (grated or diced) in a vegan Bolognese, for example. Local smoked tofu is often already marinated in soy sauce.

  • Fried tofu

This tofu is fried in oil and tastes particularly good in Asian dishes. You can find it in Asian supermarkets or of course, you can make it yourself.

  • Fermented Tofu

Fermented tofu has not been on the market in Europe for long. For several years, however, it has been produced by the German tofu manufacturer Taifun (“FETO”) and sold in health food stores.

The Swiss tofu specialist Soyana even has several products made from fermented tofu in its range, e.g. B. different vegan cream cheese variations and also a vegan sour cream (like sour cream).

Fermented tofu is natural tofu that is fermented with the help of lactic acid bacteria. For this purpose, the tofu is placed in a brine, which extracts the water from it and prevents mold or putrefactive bacteria from forming (similar to how sauerkraut is made). The brine in turn forms an ideal breeding ground for lactic acid bacteria to multiply. These now convert starch and sugar into lactic acid, resulting in a lactic acid fermented product.

The fermentation keeps the tofu longer and gives it a sour taste. Fermented tofu is particularly popular in China. Rice wine or vinegar as well as chili, bean pastes, and rice are often added to the brine, which makes it taste spicy and hot.

Fermented tofu is considered easier to digest because the lactic acid bacteria pre-digest the tofu, so to speak. Like all fermented foods, fermented tofu is also considered a probiotic food that has a positive effect on intestinal flora. Here we present other probiotic foods – from kimchi and kombucha to kefir and bread drink to fermented fruit and vegetables.

Fermented tofu specialty Stinky Tofu – The stinky tofu

A very special specialty in China is the so-called “stinky tofu”. It is silken tofu that is fermented in a special spice marinade for several months. It then stinks (similar to certain types of cheese in our country) and is considered a delicacy. Because of its penetrating stench, it is usually only sold in takeaways and markets, as the smell is hard to bear indoors.

Stinky tofu is usually fried so that it is crispy on the outside but remains tender and juicy on the inside and then served with spicy sauces.

Specialty Tofu

In addition, there is now a wealth of tofu varieties that already contain herbs, spices, or vegetables and are marinated or put in a sauce, such as basil tofu, olive tofu, harissa tofu (a hot sauce), curry tofu, tomatoes -Tofu, nut tofu or seasoned and pre-fried tofu.

The nutritional values ​​of natural and silken tofu

The nutritional values ​​of natural tofu are as follows (per 100 g of tofu). The first value refers to normal natural tofu (using the example of Taifun tofu), and the second to silken tofu:

  • Calorific value 119 kcal – 52 kcal
  • Water 72g – 90g
  • Protein 13 g – 5.5 g
  • Fat 6.7g – 3.2g
  • Carbohydrates 1.3g – 0.4g
  • Fiber 0.6g – 0.4g

Lots of protein in tofu

Tofu contains a lot of protein and is therefore rightly considered a good alternative to meat. Firm tofu contains an average of 13 to 15 g of protein per 100 g. But there is also tofu with a protein content of 18 g and more (e.g. smoked tofu from Alnatura or Taifun).

For comparison: 100 g of beef contains 19.6 g of protein. The protein content determines the consistency of the tofu. Therefore, firm tofu contains more protein than soft silken tofu.

More iron in tofu than in meat

When it comes to tracing elements, the iron content in tofu is particularly striking. Because 100 g firm tofu contains around 2.5 mg iron and thus covers a good 20% of the daily requirement (silky tofu: 10%).

For comparison: the same amount of beef contains around 2.2 mg of iron and therefore less than tofu. The daily requirement of manganese is also covered by almost 20% (silk tofu: 10%).

Tofu in the low carb and low fat diet

Since tofu is low in fat and contains only a small proportion of carbohydrates, it is suitable for both low-carb and low-fat diets. Firm tofu contains 8.7 g fat and 0.6 g carbohydrates. Due to its higher water content, silken tofu only contains 3.2 g of fat and 0.4 g of carbohydrates.

Conventional or organic – you should pay attention to this when buying tofu
Buy organic tofu as this way you support organic farming and its environmentally friendly production. The soybeans for organic tofu are also increasingly coming directly from the EU, so they no longer have to be imported, which means that any contamination with GM soy can be avoided.

There are now even soybeans from Germany, but cultivation is currently only possible in the south. However, the tofu manufacturer Taifun is developing its own organic seed with the aim of enabling the cultivation of cold-tolerant organic soy plants throughout Germany.

Tofu is not made from GM soy

Genetically modified soy is not used in tofu production because genetically modified soy cannot be used in food in the EU. GM soy is used in the animal feed industry and oil production and consequently enters the food chain of meat and dairy eaters via animal feed, but not vegan people.

Make your own tofu

If you would rather make your own tofu right away, you will find step-by-step instructions for firm tofu below. In addition to the usual utensils that you usually have at home (large bowl, two saucepans, blender, stirring stick, skimmer), you will need:

The ingredients:

  • 250 g preferably fresh, dry organic soybeans from Europe
  • Water (low-lime tap water, otherwise still or filtered water)
  • Coagulant (here: Nigari, order online, e.g. from Amazon, Power-Soja, or
  • Swissecoshop. The latter offers Nigari from Europe, otherwise it mostly comes from Japan.)
  • straining cloth
  • kitchen thermometer
  • Square mold for pressing (should have holes and a lid that fits the mold)

The preparation:

Steps one through four describe how to make your own soy milk. You can also use soy milk (without additives) from the supermarket, but it should contain at least 9% soybeans. (If in doubt, check with the manufacturer.) Steps 6 through 8 cover how the soymilk is made into tofu.

How to make soy milk

Wash the soybeans thoroughly and soak them in a bowl of plenty of water overnight.
Pour off the water and puree the soaked soybeans with 0.5 l of water for a few minutes.
Heat 200 ml of water in a large saucepan, add the soybeans and let them cook for 10 minutes. The water will boil slightly, so stay close and stir occasionally to avoid a skin forming. Then take the pot off the stove and let it cool down a bit.
Then put the soy mass in the straining cloth and press it out well over a saucepan. What then remains in the pot is the soy milk.
The soy milk is now briefly boiled with 1 ¼ l of lukewarm water. Then reduce the heat and let the soy milk simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now set the pot aside to let the soy milk cool down a little (it should be between 75 and 80 °C for the next few steps).

How to make tofu from soy milk

If you are using purchased soy milk, heat 1 l of it to 75 to 80 °C and start making the tofu at this point (however, the result can vary greatly depending on the soy milk).

Dissolve 1½ teaspoons of nigari in 100ml of cold water.
Gently stir the dissolved coagulant into the soy milk, put the lid on and wait about 15 minutes until the soy milk has curdled (the protein has separated from the whey).
Lay out a square shape with a cheesecloth. Ideally, the pan will have holes on the sides to allow the liquid to drain and the tofu to dehydrate. Place the tofu mass in the cloth and cover with a lid that fits the mold exactly. You can buy special tofu shapes for this (from around 4 euros). Then, depending on the size of your mold, weigh the lid down with one or two 0.75 l water bottles for 25 minutes so that the mass is formed into a nice tofu block and the liquid runs out.

This is how tofu is stored

It is best to put your homemade “bean cheese” in a bowl and cover it with water. You can also add a little salt to the water if you don’t mind the taste and don’t want to use the tofu for making desserts. This keeps the tofu in the fridge for about a week (without salt about 4 days). Do the same with store-bought tofu if you don’t need the whole block of tofu for a recipe.

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